With outposts in the Middle East and Africa, France has been involved in Syrian politics since the 1920s and continues to meddle in the region.
France’s involvement in Syria goes back to at least World War I. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following the Great War, Syria became one of the League of Nations mandates under French Rule along with Greater Lebanon. The Arab-dominated region came under French rule from 1923 until its independence in 1945, just as Lebanon was.
While French interest in Syria may not have gone back as far as Napoleon Bonaparte, as US President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet perhaps facetiously, it goes back at least to the 1920s.
....and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
France has kept a close watch on Syrian affairs since its mandate over the country, and as some maintain, has cultivated a colonial tendency of separation and division, and to that end, has even supported groups that have been designated as terrorists by the EU and Turkey.
In an interview with The Economist in November 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron criticised his American counterpart Trump on Syria.
"What we are currently experiencing," The Economist quoted Macron as saying with reference to the withdrawal of troops from Syria, is “the brain-death of NATO”. Macron argued: "You have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None. You have an unco-ordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake."
Business Insider, referring to The Economist article, wrote: "Macron added that the Turkish military incursion to fight the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish-led militia, also presented NATO with a quagmire in Syria."
YPG, the Syrian arm of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey and the EU, has been supported by the US and France in Syria during fighting with Daesh, while Turkey sees it as a threat to the sovereignty of the Syrian people.
Macron, in October 2019, asked the EU to condemn Turkey because of its offensive in Syria against the YPG, The Hill reported. Macron also asked for an official arms embargo against Turkey by the EU.
A November 2015 Washington Post article by Samuel Ramani suggested that there were three factors affecting France’s involvement with Syria and its direct opposition to Bashar al Assad.
Ramani wrote that first, France uses its “interventionist” foreign policy to “reinforce its self-perception as a great power”. Ramani commented that “France’s support for regime change in Syria builds on its actions in Libya,” –– by which he means France’s steps to “protect civilians from Moammar Gaddafi” during the civil war while Nicolas Sarkozy was president –– “and confirms France’s desire to be perceived as a humanitarian leader”.
Initially seeming to be on good terms with the Assad government, then-President Sarkozy publicly changed his view starting in August 2011 stating Assad’s actions caused “irreparable damage” to his legitimacy, Ramani says. This attitude culminated in January 2012 when Sarkozy demanded Assad resign after massacres that caused “disgust and revulsion around the world”, Ramani writes.
Other regional analysts echo a similar view, arguing that France is aiming to fill in for the US and under the Macron administration attempts are being made to "establish a high profile for France in Syria, which of course was once within France’s zone of influence".
And finally, France considers its “steadfast opposition to Assad” as an “opportunity” to further its cooperation with Sunni Middle Eastern countries who also are against Assad and Iran. France has been cultivating good will among Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to strengthen its standing in Syria. The troika has common interests. While Saudi Arabia is against Assad, Egypt is deeply concerned about instability in the Middle East wrought by Daesh, a violent and unpredictable force. The factors allow France to count on the two regional powers.